Nigeria bans cough syrup with codeine after addiction outcry

LAGOS- Nigeria has announced a ban on the production and import of cough syrup containing codeine after a BBC investigation into its role in an addiction epidemic.

The BBC is reporting that a health ministry spokesman told them the remaining stocks in shops could be sold with a prescription.

This development occurred after a BBC investigation showed cough syrup being sold on the black market and used by young Nigerians to get high.

The report recorded a number of pharmaceutical figures selling the drug illegally.

The BBC’s new investigation unit, Africa Eye, and BBC Pidgin probed the allegations which prompted a quick response from people across the country, including Nigeria’s first lady, Aisha Buhari, who posted on Instagram post she was “deeply saddened” by the rise of the problem, especially in the north of Nigeria.

She added, “I call on all security agencies, lawmakers, judiciary, drug manufacturers, civil society, regulators, teachers, parents, neighbours and you to take this as a personal war and halt the menace.”

But the Ministry of Health’s assistant director of information, Olajide Oshundun, said the ban was a result of months of work by a committee, which submitted a report into the widespread abuse of the medication on Tuesday.

Oshundun told the BBC that people, “have been told by federal government not to use codeine in cough syrup.”

“Those that want to import the substance, it is been banned now. It is completely banned.

The cough syrup was legal, however it was illegal to sell it to people without a doctor’s prescription or those who did not have a pharmaceutical licence.

The Nigerian government figures show as many as three million bottles of codeine syrup are drunk every single day in just two states, Kano and Jigawa.

In the BBC report by the BBC’s undercover team, they caught one executive for Emzor Pharmaceuticals proudly boasting he has sold “one million cartons” in a week on the black market.

Man pouring cough syrup into a bottle

  • Codeine is a pain killer but also an addictive opioid. Taken in excess, it can cause schizophrenia and organ failure
  • Codeine syrup is commonly mixed with soft drinks and often consumed by students
  • The codeine is imported, but the syrup is made in Nigeria by more than 20 pharmaceutical companies
  • Nigeria’s drug enforcement agency is fighting this epidemic. In a recent raid, it seized 24,000 bottles of codeine syrup from a single lorry in Katsina
  • Codeine syrup addiction is a problem across Africa, with reports of addiction in Kenya, Ghana, Niger, and Chad.

Emzor released a statement on Facebook emphasising its commitment to the proper “handling, production, storing and distribution of products containing codeine”.

The statement continued, “We hope the findings of the documentary will shed further light on the extent and impact of the illicit trade and consumption of codeine,”

“We hope that full stakeholder engagement will result in impactful action against the abuse, smuggling and faking of drugs on the continent.”

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